In 1952 “Life”magazine photographer Loomis Dean conducted an impressive photo shoot in Los Angeles for an article in the publication about Walter Nilsson’s unique “Uno-Wheel.” Occasionally one of the photos will surface today and the most famous of all is the shot of Nilsson (below) with a cigarette dangling from his mouth while at the gas pumps at a filling station in Los Angeles.
In earlier times according to Daniel Strohl at Hemmings Daily “Nilsson was a vaudeville unicyclist best known for publicity stunts involving unicycling up and down the faces of monuments. In 1934, he rode coast-to-coast across the United States on a unicycle in 117 days.”
- The well-known “Life” magazine photo referred to earlier in the text of Nilsson smoking at the gas pumps with the “Uno-Wheel.” Note the construction of the seat that appears to be repurposed.
- 1930s photo that may have been taken at the time when the construction of the machine was finished. Note the hard rubber tire, larger fuel tank, and the vertical single cylinder engine. AACA Library.
Nilsson claimed to have built the “Uno-Wheel” by himself, and if that is, in fact, the case, the showman must have started constructing it before or just after his cross-county adventure on a unicycle. Different sources date it as being finished in either 1935 or ’36.
Until now all that we have been able to find were a few of the “Life” photo shoot images. The AACA Library and Research Center has in its collection an informational sheet that dates the machine and contains photos (above and below) of Nilsson posing with it. The balance of the photographs in this post are via contributor Benjamin Ames.
The informational sheet from the AACA Library contained the photo (above) and stated it took Nilsson ten years to perfect the Uno-Wheel, which would date the image to just after the war. The “Special built pneumatic tire, 5 foot x 3 1/2 inch, that cost $800” had been added, the engine was replaced, and the fuel tank was reduced in depth or replaced with another, note the license plate.
The informational sheet also claimed it was: “Powered by a single-cylinder motor developing 12 h.p. (possibly built by Indian) Capable of speeds of 1 to 100 miles per hour (unlikely based on the inherent instability of mono wheels and the small engine size). Has three speeds – makes 90 miles per gallon. Steering is accomplished by a secret device (note all the covers below the seat) which allow the rider to sit upright while the wheel leans in turning. Cost of experiments and construction about $6000.”
Dan Strohl also found that the Uno-Wheel had survived to at least the late 1970s when a reference was made to it in the “Motor Cycle News”. At that time the machine was still in Los Angeles but had been fitted with a different engine. Hopefully, it has survived? If anyone can add more to this story, please let us know.